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Don Quixote is a well-loved and admired "classic" tale. The self-styled hero, Don Quixote, is close to madness, having "dried out his brain," and is of the belief that he is as good as any knight in serving and protecting his lady love and her honor. The details are not important to him and he is not discouraged by the less than ideal location of La Mancha, or circumstances or his romantic notions and, as the plot develops, he becomes certain that any misfortune is the work of a wizard by whom he is cursed. Don Quixote is is neither affected nor aware of his own insanity. Chivalry is all that is important in his quest.
The best example of the idealism versus realism concept is Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza and their unlikely relationship; it is at times destructive in nature and unfortunate but at other times reassuring. It is the combination of their different outlooks which drives the story and which makes both characters more believable. Sancho feels pain and has no intention of concealing this fact, regardless of what he sees Don Quixote do in the interests of bravery, feigned or real. The reader can appreciate Don Quixote's idealized version more readily when he accepts the need to view things from a different angle and a more positive perspective. Furthermore, the fact that the men know that they are characters in a story and that the story depends on their actions ensures that the reality becomes intermingled with the fantasy and the characters are not always sure which is which.
Don Quixote's "love" for Dulcinea, apart from being comical, adds to the subjectivity of any encounter or reality. To him, she is beautiful and mysterious, not remotely like the real peasant woman on whom he has based his illusion. There is a fine line between Quixote's appearance as a fool and his hero status as he immerses himself in his fantasies to avoid his dismal and discouraging reality. The fact that, towards the end, his madness will subside and his death will follow reveals that, for Don Quixote, the ideal gives him purpose and brings meaning to his life and, without it, there is no reality, only death.
Idealism is the "ideal" perfect situation. Realism is "reality"--how the world really is.
One obvious example of idealism is how Don Quixote believes himself to be a knight. In reality, he is a skinny old man riding a malnourished old horse around the countryside.
He also chooses a "lovely" young lady in whose name he does all his grand deeds. In reality, she has no clue he's doing this.
He fights a "dragon" to rescue the damsel. In reality, the dragon is a windmill.
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